by JULIO MARTINEZ
1902, fledgling entrepreneur Charles A. Tegner opens a small real estate and insurance office in downtown Santa Monica. As he and the community around him begin to prosper, Tegner actively involves himself in uplifting the architectural and cultural vitality of his surroundings. In 1910, Tegner hires architect Henry C. Hollwedel (who also designs the still-standing Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club Building) to bring to fruition the Santa Monica Opera House—renamed the Majestic Theater before it opens—at 212 Santa Monica Blvd.
In keeping with his employer’s grandiose plans, Hollwedel designs an elaborate façade of baroque swirls and inset shields. The interior, with curved balcony, is highlighted by two life-size masques on either side of the proscenium arch, declaring the new theater’s intent to be a home for comedy and tragedy.
When the Majestic officially opens on December 12, 1911, it is the most modern legitimate theater operating in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, during the pre-World War I years, most fans of live theater, classical music, and opera are clustered around Downtown LA and have no desire to drive 15 miles west to the beach for their culture. With the advent of feature-length silent films, the Majestic is converted into a high-end, 602-seat film palace and vaudeville venue that serves the community well.
By the late 1920s, the theater is outpaced by much larger and newer “talking picture” movie houses that are springing up in the ever-expanding Santa Monica area. The Majestic now holds its own as a second-run neighborhood film venue, and by the end of its days as a movie house in the early ‘70s, it is specializing in themed double features, such as High Plains Drifter/Play Misty For Me and Night of the Living Dead/The Corpse Grinders.
In 1972, Messers Milt Larsen (of Magic Castle fame), John Shrum, and Thomas Heric turn this remnant of Tegner’s Majestic into the Mayfair Music Hall. Their rehab of the facility includes the addition of decor salvaged from the fire-damaged Fox Belmont Theatre in LA. Beatrice Kay, Mousie Garner, Ian Whitcomb, Eubie Blake, and Joyce Howard are some of the notables who take the stage in Larsen’s British-style music hall productions.
But declining audiences finally lead Larsen and company to abandon their efforts to bring British culture to the Pacific Ocean and the Mayfair Music Hall is reduced to a rental facility. During the ’80s, it houses the improv ensemble War Babies and such musical revues as Oh Coward!, Perfectly Frank, Piaf! Her Songs, Her Loves…, The Magic If, and Some Like It Cole. In 1985, Costa Mesa-based South Coast Repertory transfers its highly successful staging of Craig Lucas’s Blue Window, helmed by Norman Rene — featuring Lisa Pelikan and Chris Mulkey — to Mayfair. In February 1989, the theater becomes the West Coast home of Chicago’s The Second City—until a talent drain into Tinseltown’s mainstream entertainment industry causes its demise.
The Mayfair is finally done in by the ’94 Northridge earthquake and is boarded up and scaffolded by owner Karl Schober, a descendant of the original Mayfair owner. The building is demolished in 2010. A glimpse within this once-magnificent performance venue can be found in a War Babies performance, filmed in 1981.